Hempfield clinches playoff berth
When the Hempfield Area girls basketball team started Section 1-AAAA play with three consecutive losses, Spartans coach Gene Brisbane didn't panic.
The veteran coach and his team went back to the basics. They concentrated on good defense, rebounding and being patient on offense.
The result, Hempfield has won 8 of 9 section games, and Thursday it clinched a spot in the WPIAL Class AAAA playoffs with an impressive 49-33 victory over rival Greensburg Salem.
Hempfield (11-8 overall and 8-4 section) used smothering defense and dominating board play by Rachel Martinko, Samantha Wanichko and Natalie Foy.
Martinko, a 6-foot junior forward, scored 16 points and pulled down 10 rebounds to lead the Spartans. It was the eighth time this season Martinko has recorded a double-double.
"We're playing pretty good basketball," Brisbane said. "This was only the seventh time this season we had everyone ready to play."
Wanichko (13 points) and Brittany Bell (11) have been sidelined at various times during the season with injuries. Wanichko has been battling ankle injuries, and Bell has been out with a shin injury.
"Through this current stretch, we've had at least two or three players score double figures," Brisbane said. "I'm very pleased how we've bounced back."
Hempfield raced out to a 6-0 lead last night and never looked back. The Spartans led 12-8 after one quarter and 25-12 at halftime. Martinko led the way with 10 points in the opening half.
"Their zones gave us trouble," Greensburg Salem coach Tim Kimmel said. "We were either unable or unwilling to attack their defense. They got us going side to side, and we didn't attack with confidence."
And when the Golden Lions did get open looks at the basket, they weren't hitting.
"They were unsure what defense we were in," Brisbane said. "We disguised it, and the players ran it well. We also kept changing the defense on them."
The Spartans stretched their lead to 40-23 in the fourth quarter before an 8-0 run by the Golden Lions, which included six points from Rachel Roddy, closed the margin to 40-31. Roddy led Greensburg Salem with 15 points, and Annie Olesky had 9.
"We weren't aggressive on the boards, which was disappointing," Kimmel said. "I didn't see too many brown shirts going after the ball."
Bell ended the Golden Lions' comeback by nailing eight consecutive free throws in the final 1:20.
"You don't want to foul Brittany," Brisbane said. "She's deadly from the foul line."
Brisbane then paused and reflected on the season.
"We went back to the fundamentals," he said. "I don't know of too many teams that started out 0-3, then comeback and clinched a playoff spot with two games left in the season."
Despite the loss, Greensburg Salem (13-9, 6-6) and Greater Latrobe (12-7, 6-6) remained tied for the final playoff spot. The two will meet at 7:30 p.m. Monday. It's a must-win game for the Golden Lions, who lost 78-70 to the Wildcats earlier this season.
Hempfield will play host to unbeaten Altoona (18-0) at 2 p.m. Saturday in a non-section game.